North Wales council cut 'may save hundreds of millions'

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Media captionCouncils are already creating regional structures to co-ordinate services

Hundreds of millions of pounds could be saved if the existing six north Wales local authorities were replaced by just two, says a council leader.

Gwynedd's Dyfed Edwards said one council for the north east and another for north west Wales could address a "significant financial challenge".

Councils are already creating regional structures to co-ordinate services.

But the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said it did not support the call for reorganisation.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews has repeatedly said there are too many small councils failing in education.

Last month Mr Andrews removed Merthyr Tydfil council's responsibility for education after a critical report by the schools watchdog, Estyn and said his "preferred option" was to merge its education services with neighbouring Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Mr Edwards told BBC Radio Cymru's Post Cyntaf programme: "Some people would say that my stance isn't extreme enough.

"The context for this is the significant financial challenge we face and a discussion at a national level about the best way of providing services.

"Of course, we have the education minister's review of education services, for example.

"There is a danger that, as councils, we're left behind in these discussions and we then face a situation which is a fait accompli.

'Possible solution'

"What I'm trying to do is start a discussion and, in my opinion, creating two councils in the north is a possible solution," Mr Edwards added.

He estimated that creating a council in the north west alone would save "somewhere in the region of £200m a year".

He said that was a "rough estimate" and he expected the actual saving to be higher.

North Wales is currently served by six local authorities - Anglesey, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd and Wrexham.

In response to Mr Edwards' comments the WLGA said it and the "vast majority of councils across Wales" does not support the call for local government reorganisation.

"Councils are already reorganising key services at a regional level and dealing with hugely challenging budgets," said a spokesperson.

"The last reorganisation in Wales started in 1991 and finished in 1996 and was hugely time consuming, costly and subject to significant political controversy. That also occurred in a much better financial climate."

It is for the councils themselves to take decisions about "sustainability and viability over time", the spokesperson added.

"There undoubtedly will be major mergers of functions across the 22 authorities not least in terms of education and social care, but the old style 'big bang' approach to reorganisation is not required in this setting."

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "The [Local Government] Minister is aware of the ongoing debate about the structure of local authorities in Wales. However, our top priorities and those of the people of Wales are the services provided.

"It is important that all existing authorities collaborate with each other to deliver those services as effectively and efficiently as possible."

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